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Brian Wong mines happiness (Startup Secret 55)

You can try to force people to be happy. Or you can find out when they really are happy, and go from there.

"It is easier to mine happiness than create it."

--Brian Wong, CEO, Kiip

The concept behind Brian Wong's company, Kiip, is, in my estimation, brilliant. Kiip is a mobile game advertising company, but with a unique twist. It doesn't pop ads up while you're in the middle of a game, or nag you while you're waiting for a level to load. Rather, Brian sells advertisers the opportunity to reward players when they have accomplished certain things, and he makes a set of utilities that developers can use to offer up their players' accomplishment moments to marketers.

This is what happens when you ask Brian Wong to hold still for a picture. Rafe Needleman/CNET

Did a player just level up? Defeat 15 orcs? Find the key to Erewhonistan? At moments like these, they're happy. Kiip is about making them happier, by letting marketers reach them with special offers: real-world rewards for their virtual achievements. The reward screens are not pre-announced, so users don't know when they're going to get a nibble of the cheese, and they're presented at natural pauses, so they don't interrupt game flow.

Brian says he focuses not on the "gamification" of the real world, as other people have pitched (see my Reporters' Roundtable on gamification), but rather on the "rewardification" of the online world.

So he's not trying to make people happy. He's trying to capture the moments when they are happy and help marketers get their brands associated with those little limbic lightning strikes.

"Happiness is a natural resource," Brian says. "Like any resource, it's easier to mine than create."

When doing this, he reminds me, you also have to be a steward of happiness. You can't strip-mine a game for events to exploit. But if you can help people and developers make the "natural happy moments" happier, well, everyone wins.

Brian is moving Kiip beyond just games. The latest push is to put rewardification into non-game apps. He cites the connection he enabled between Pepsi's Propel energy drink and the MapMyRun developers. He's also got his eye on music and education apps. "We want to find patterns of behavior, and be there."

I think he's sitting on top of a great resource. As Brian says, "Sixty million times a month, I see when people are happy."

What are you doing to reinforce your users' happy moments in your products?

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies, and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar for new ones. See all the Startup Secrets.